Short Stories
Entry No. 57 June 4, 2005

56 Kms to Ushuaia

There is nothing like the feeling of fear. It comes in so many forms. With respect to things that you get comfortable doing and stop thinking about how to do it and just do it, like biking or driving, close calls are what make my heart jump and my feet and ankles tingle. Fear manifested itself in a number of ways over a 24 hour period of time from June 3rd, around 7 pm to June 4th around 6 pm.

It was about 2 pm on June 4th. It was clear and sunny and we were atop the Garibaldi Pass about 1500 meters above sea level. Snow and ice carpeted the road. We had just passed the sign that said tire chains were obligatory. There were areas of sheer, smooth ice and others where it was thin enough to think it was just wet but it was, in fact, black ice. Still other parts were just stretches of thick, layered ice with grooves in it from the ice melting and chained tires passing over it. Here was where it was easiest to find some sort of traction.

We were so close to Ushuaia, yet there was this barrier between us. Normally, it was a distance, a number of kilometers that always seemed so far away, never an amount to consider completing in a day’s ride. Today, however, the distance was so short and Ushuaia was closer than ever and felt accomplishable in one day. Yet this cold and icy, narrow and busy, twisty and curvy road felt like such a wall. Getting to the top of the pass was steep and slow and a little slippery but not too bad. It was facing north so the sun melted things a bit. After getting up and over though, it was downhill. For the first time, I wished it was uphill and gravel so my tires could dig into the uneven ground and grab rocks and dirt as I went. Nevertheless, it was beautifully paved and covered in inches of ice.

As I biked down, I had one foot sliding along the ground and my brakes on slightly. The fear jumps into my throat, down my esophagus, into my heart and down to my feet as the bike slides sideways, almost out from under me. My grip tightens even more, fighting the stiffness of wearing two layers of gloves so I can wrap my thick digits around the handlebars and brakes. My whole body compensates for this sudden change and my foot that was sliding is now in brake mode. I regain control, breathe, and continue.

This feeling of fear was more intense because I had already felt the sting of a fall, and thinking of falling again on such a tender spot was unnerving. The night before, I had fallen on ice making a turn and went down rather quickly. As I fell, I had tried to take my clipped-in foot out of my pedal which turned my hip out more so and I landed directly on the bone. That night, as I laid in pain, I wondered how ironic it would be to get this far and have to quit the day before. The very day of arrival to my final destination, and that day only, would have to be relinquished. I thought about that a lot the night of June 3rd. I thought about what I would do if I really hurt my hip bad enough that I couldn’t bike the last 100 kilometers. I also thought about dealing with the recovery of a fractured or sprained hip. I was trying to be so thankful that I had traveled over 20,000 kilometers through 14 countries and only had to deal with some hip problems (that were still unfounded), but I couldn’t help crying. I couldn’t help feeling like I wished I had done it all without one single issue. But how spoiled can one get? Jeez. I woke up with a better attitude and said let’s do this. It will hurt tomorrow just as much as today, so why put off our final day.

Hmmm. Well, putting off the final day was kind of attractive. In the middle of all this, I also had this feeling of this trip being over. The destination I so wanted to reach was within reach, but now I didn’t want it so quickly. I wanted it. I wanted to be there. But I didn’t want to have to stop biking after I got there. Well, in that weather, it wouldn’t take much to talk me out of, but I didn’t want to think about packing up my bike; putting it in a box because she was done being used for this trip. Being on a bike everyday was comfortable in so many ways: knowing what I had to do each day and knowing how to do it; constant change in scenery, constant readiness in dealing with cities and being good at biking through them; cooking a well-rounded, carb-packed meal in one pot with one knife and one spoon; and occasionally showering, enough to not get sick, but apparently not enough to keep Internet café clerks from spraying air freshener really close to my computer booth. These things were fun and I was having trouble thinking how to live and enjoy life any other way.

All of this was in my head as I tried not to fall on the next patch of ice. My hip was feeling marvelous. I thought the biking was actually helping it, but, as a precautionary measure, I had “reinforced” my right side with other clothes bunched into my bike shorts. It looked like I had a pretty bad calcium growth or some kind of tumor protuberating from my hip. It made me look pretty lop-sided, but made me feel better that if I were to fall, I would have some kind of cushion. With each section of downhill on this crazy medium, my body and brain grew more and more exhausted. It took so much energy to constantly focus and be prepared to regain control. Will had had a few falls, Orian with one. We were tired and it was getting late. As it became obvious that a storm was approaching right from the direction where we were going, I doubted that we would be able to arrive that night. To bike in such conditions at night was just stupid.

Another bothersome issue was that we were not sure how far we were from the destination. You would think that there would be some signs for kilometers left to the Southernmost City of the Freaking World. Up until the Garibaldi Pass, signs for the distance to Ushuaia overpopulated the road, almost every 5 kilometers. Now, we had been riding for almost 4 hours down this mountain, ever so slowly, and had not seen one sign. We could only guess that we were 20 to 25 kilometers away.

As the blizzard closed in on us, the road seemed to get even more slick. I knew we had to be low enough in altitude for the road get a bit better and we had heard that 12 kilometers before town, the road would improve dramatically. Orian and I stopped a car to find out how far we were. We were still 15 kilometers away. Three more kilometers and we should be in the clear. I was still wary and considered camping out for the night. The blizzard was upon us and I felt like I would rather walk my bike the 12 kilometers than set up camp in this weather for the night. Just as I thought this, Orian told me to feel out the road. There was no more ice, just a thin layer of snow from the oncoming storm. I was happy about this. We would get there tonight. The snowflakes were huge looking out with my headlamp on and the lights of oncoming cars made it difficult to see. I kept towards the side of the road and followed the white line. It was downhill and we picked up the pace. The snow was coming fast but I had no doubt that we would make it. We saw the soft glow of the town around a bend and as we turned the last corner, we saw Will dancing around in the snow in front of the sign that said, “ Ushuaia. Bienvenidos a la Ciudad Mas Austral Del Mundo. Welcome to the Southernmost City in the World”.

We arrived at a hostel a few kilometers into town and parked our bikes in a garage for the night. We unpacked some things to take inside with us. That is when I noticed my beauty leaning alongside the wall of the garage. I just looked at her, trailer still in tow, partially unpacked. As the snow slowly fell from her frame, melting into a puddle under her, I realized it wasn’t snow; she was crying.

My year long bike trip from Alaska to Argentina was over. I did it.

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